New United Nations Report Shows Earth’s Ozone Layer is Repairing Itself

According to a new United Nations report, Earth’s ozone layer is finally repairing itself from damage that was a result of aerosol sprays and coolants.

Since the late 1970s, the ozone layer had been thinning. Fortunately, scientists sounded the alarm, and ozone-depleting chemicals were phased out globally.

Thus, the upper ozone layer above the Northern Hemisphere should be entirely healed by the 2030s, and the gaping Antarctic ozone hole should be fixed sometime by the 2060s, as per a scientific assessment unveiled Monday at a conference in Quito, Ecuador. The Southern Hemisphere is taking a bit longer, and its ozone layer should be repaired by mid-century.

Report co-chairman Paul Newman, the chief Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center stated that it’s excellent news because if we had continued to see a rise in ozone-depleting substances, we would have seen huge effects.

The Ozone layer is high in the atmosphere and protects the Earth from ultraviolet rays that result in skin cancer, crop damage, and other issues. Use of human-made chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that release chlorine and bromine, started eating away at the ozone. In 1987, countries worldwide agreed in the Montreal Protocol to stop using CFCs and businesses came up with ways to replace spray cans and other uses.

The late 1990s saw the worst of it with approximately 10 percent of the upper ozone layer depleted, according to Newman. Since 2000, it has increased by about 1 to 3 percent per decade, as stated in the report.

This year, the ozone hole over the South Pole peaked at almost 9.6 million square miles (24.8 million square kilometres). That’s around 16 percent smaller than the biggest hole on record, which was 11.4 million square miles (29.6 million square kilometres) in 2006.

Newman explained that the hole reaches its peak in September and October and vanishes by late December until the next Southern Hemisphere spring.

The ozone layer starts at around 6 miles (10 kilometres) above Earth and stretches for almost 25 miles (40 kilometres); ozone is a colourless combination of three oxygen atoms.

Newman also explained that if no preventative measures were taken to stop the thinning, the world would have destroyed two-thirds of its ozone layer by 2065.

Although it’s good news, it’s not a complete success yet, explained Brian Toon from the University of Colorado, who wasn’t part of the report.

Toon explained that we’re only at a point where recovery may have begun, highlighting some ozone measurements that haven’t increased so far.

Another issue is that new technology has found a rise in emissions of a banned CFC out of East Asia, as per the report.

What’s more, Ross Salawitch, a University of Maryland atmospheric scientist who co-authored the report explained that by itself, the ozone hole has slightly protected Antarctica from the much more significant effects of global warming. It has heated up but not as much as it likely would without ozone depletion.

Thus, a healed ozone layer will worsen human-made climate change there a bit, according to Newman.

Scientists also are unclear on how much a healed ozone hole will further warm Antarctica, but they do know the immediate effects of ozone depletion on the world and human health, which is why Salawitch stated that it would be incredibly irresponsible not to do this.

Plus, the replacements currently being used to cool cars and refrigerators should be replaced themselves with chemicals that don’t make global warming worse, said Newman. An amendment to the Montreal Protocol that goes into effect in 2019 would reduce the use of some of those gases.

Only in 2060 will we truly be able to celebrate, if all goes well.


Image Credit: Hurst Photo / Shutterstock


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